I took a bit of a hiatus from leisurely writing for the past few weeks while I finished up my semester at seminary. The end of the semester was crazy and I wrote somewhere in the ballpark of 50 pages in the last couple of weeks of April. I needed a break. After the semester was over I spent some time out by the pool at our apartment complex, playing pool volleyball and finishing up grading some papers for my grad internship. After that, I went on a serious vacation with my wife—a much needed vacation because even though I had been working hard, she puts me to shame. As a CPA finishing up tax season, she crossed the finish line exhausted like a marathon runner. You know, the ones whose legs turn to jello at the end of the race and all they can do is crawl? That pretty much sums up how badly my wife needed a vacation.
Being away for a week was refreshing. I love being away from my computer, television, and especially my cell phone. I got to read a novel— The Last Juror by John Grisham, and just BE. I didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything. In those moments there was no hustle and bustle, just rest. This got me to thinking about how important rest is to Christian Spirituality. Rest, of course, is but the fringes of Christian Spirituality.
For the next few post, I want to walk through a biblical, historical understanding of Christian Spirituality by looking at the life and worship of the early church. I recently took a class on this and it blew my mind, so I want to report some of what I learned. A word of caution is necessary, especially for people like me. What I mean by that is I have a bent when it comes to the history of Christianity. Sometimes I associate “Early” with “better” or “correct.” This isn’t always true but what I will say is that if the early church did or believed something and we don’t, then we had better have a good reason. What I want to avoid are blanket statements such as, “Well it was good for the early church so we should do it too.” Well, not necessarily. What I do hope to do is point out the various differences between the life and worship of the Early Church and 21st century American Free Church Evangelicalism (FCE). Walk into any contemporary FCE church and you will likely find a service that centers around music and preaching. This shows the development of an unofficial liturgy that has come to characterize the FCE movement. The problem is, as we will see, the liturgy that the church expresses directly reflects their theology. On a typical Sunday morning in many FCE churches, people fill the pews, receive an order of worship, and are led step by step through the service in a manner that seldom requires any active elements. This is a form of liturgy although it may not seem so in the modern understanding of the term. More than this, the movement is also characterized by a privatized spirituality, whereby prayer, the reading of scripture, and spiritual growth takes place “one-on-one” with God. The intended result of this hopeful spiritual growth is often times a sense of fulfillment and happiness.
However, is this the only option? Has this been the defining mark of Christian worship since the beginning? What elements did the early church employ and what was there overall view of spirituality? These are the questions that I will seek to explain by first offering a summary of early church spirituality. This section will address some of the underlying assumptions that directed the specific actions in the early church. Second, I will attempt to provide a glimpse into particular practices, specifically the two sacraments within the early church and how those practices differ from contemporary FCE.
So that is the direction I will be going over the next few posts. Next post will deal will the foundational assumptions that governed and drove early church spirituality.